Saturday, November 30, 2013

Gratitude, Chopping Onions, and the REAL Meaning of Thanksgiving!

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It turns what we have into enough and more.
It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order,
confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a
feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.
                                              -Melody Beattie

The snow is gently falling on this early Saturday morning in Spokane, flakes drifting here and there illuminated by an outdoor lantern. I made the coffee and added some egg nog to my old over-sized Starbucks mug with the word Italy across the side. Ah!... memories  It has been a full and over-flowing Thanksgiving week and I am finally taking a moment, just a moment, to reflect on it all.

When you are a college professor, or a teacher of any grade, you know the stirring and anxiousness
that resides in the heart of every student as a holiday approaches. Part of each of my sweeties has already left the building while their body is forced to stay in captivity and complete the day. I could feel the anticipation build last Monday. Every heart was playing the "I can't wait to get out of here" blues. Yet there was still work to be done and onions to be chopped. The onions would come on Tuesday.

While I am an early riser, the night before going to Spokane's House of Charity to help put on a Thanksgiving dinner, almost always keeps my eye lids from closing. I am at once excited and a little bit anxious. I needed to get there Tuesday morning by 5 am. I was up at 2:30. 

The House of Charity, run by Catholic Charities in Spokane, is located in a part of Spokane that would  make Grandma squirm, as she would call it, and have her calling out warnings almost uncontrollably. If she knew I was going there she couldn't help but tell me to "look both ways, keep my eyes and ears open, carry yourself like you know what you are doing, and if necessary use your purse as a weapon."

That was always her advice, even when I just went out on a date. My date this time was at a place that takes care of Spokane's dear homeless. Just like for Jesus, there is often no room in the Inn for the homeless. And as the Spokane temperatures drop, and each tree branch is outlined with frost hunkering down for a long cold winter, Spokane's homeless count on the House of Charity to welcome them with open arms. All are welcome.

Each year I go there with some of the students and faculty from our college. We leave our more professional clothing in the closet, dress for the cold with quilted vests and ear muffs, and arrive ready to work. The tasks are huge. Peel a thousand potatoes. Chop six huge bags of onions. De-bone 400  already cooked turkeys. Gone are the days where we cooked the turkeys ourselves, department regulations, and barely got them in the doors before spilling turkey juice all over ourselves.

We come to give, those of us who are so blessed. And yet every time, and I mean every time, we are the receivers.

This year I was on chopping onion duty. It was a challenge since holding the onion with my
"lucky fin" left hand is a bit precarious. One of the homeless men tried to help me.
"Here sweetheart,"he said gently, "just hold the onion like this". Then he looked down, saw my smaller hand with few real fingers, looked at my face and said with a twinkle in his eyes and a chuckle in his voice, "Well, you can't loose any more fingers so we'll just have to go a little slower than usual."

He said it with such kindness, such knowing. He knew about missings, sweet Reggie did. He knew about adapting when you didn't quite have a full deck to play with. And so Reggie and I chopped onions, lots and lots of onions. He instructed me in just how to do this properly. I was the student, completely enamored by his chopping skills. Even more, his open and compassionate heart touched my soul. The time flew, we chatted, we talked about what this dinner meant to his "street buddies", as he called them. He loved, loved, loved seeing college students and their teachers get out of their comfort zones to come help the needy. We said that we were all needy, we were just needy for different things. I asked how he kept such an open heart. He said, pure and simple, that God loved him. He asked me, a little tentatively, did I really know that. Did I know that God loved me? I smiled and said that I did.

He took a deep breath, let the air out slowly, smiled and said "I'm glad that you do."

When it was time for me to leave, and go teach a class albeit smelling like pungent onions, Reggie
gave me a hug and a Thanksgiving greeting that still brings tears to my eyes. He said, "Thank you girlie for coming down to my home. I am so grateful today that I met you. I hope our paths cross again before I go to meet my sweet Jesus."

His sweet Jesus. My sweet Jesus. Gratitude flowing over the onions for all that Jesus gave both of us.

I said and I meant it, "Reggie, if we don't meet again on this side of Heaven, I know I'll see you on the other side." And he smiled. A gorgeous smile. A smile that hasn't seen a dentist in years and years.

A radiant smile that made me want to weep for all he has seen and all he has been through.

You see Reggie radiated gratitude. He radiated the message, "Be grateful in ALL circumstances."
He radiated a sense of being grateful that turned what he had into enough...and more. He radiated such acceptance of me, just as I am. Reggie practiced gratitude, lived gratitude, breathed gratitude. There in that kitchen, with my eyes dripping from cutting onions, God's child reminded me that gratitude can turn chaos into order, a meal into a feast, a stranger like Reggie into a friend. Reggie taught me about the real meaning of Thanksgiving.

Melody Beattie would have loved to meet Reggie. I'm ever so grateful that I did.

May God bless you and keep you and hold you in the palm of His
almighty hand.



Peggy Sue said...

Linda, That was beautiful and so very much the TRUE meaning of not just Thanksgiving but life! I could see this in Guidepost magazine...or well any magazine! It gave me the warm fuzzy's because no one can deny by reading it how 2 souls touched and the gifts you gave each other! Thank you for sharing this, and may this just be the start of many more holiday blessings! Just loved! and a big hug!

Cassie B. said...

Happy belated Thanksgiving and a very Merry Christmas, Linda! It's been quite awhile since we've last visited, but I think of you from time to time. Your positivity and joy for life is so amazing :) Blessings to you and yours this Christmas.
Cassie Brajcich (Harris)

Finding Comfort in Kindness...sharing from the heart

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